Boston Celtics vs. Miami Heat: Eastern Conference Finals Game 1

Both the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat are no strangers to the Eastern Conference Finals. In fact, in 5 of the last 7 years, one of these teams has gone on to claim the crown of Eastern Conference Champions. 2010 found Boston knocking off Miami to earn their spot in the NBA Finals. In 2011, Miami paid the veteran ‘Big Three (or Four)’ back, using their younger ‘Big Three’ to put the Celtics out of contention. For 2012, an inevitable rematch that will be the tie-breaker in the Eastern Conference Finals series played out over the past three years will take place, starting tonight with an exciting Game 1 tipping off on Memorial Day at 8:30 PM Eastern, from the American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. Pull your socks up for this one folks, there’s no doubt this showdown is going to be an exciting and challenging one both for the two teams involved, as well as for online sportsbook betting at one of the best online sportsbooks reviewed here at CR.

One big difference heading into this series for Miami is the absence of Chris Bosh, who last year was a huge factor in the Miami Heat getting past the Boston Celtics, averaging 18.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game throughout the 2011 playoffs. However, Miami has had to adjust to life without the 6’11” power forward, and getting a huge step-up in play from the other two-thirds of their Big Three, LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, hasn’t been much of a problem. LeBron James has been especially super-human during this years’ playoff run, stepping up to fill the void left by Bosh after the first round series against New York. Against Indiana, with the Pacers clearly having a size advantage, James helped the Heat to focus on a faster paced style of offense and has shown Miami that they can still maintain a rebounding advantage simply by outhustling the other team. Finishing the series with 30.0 points on 50.4 percent shooting, 10.8 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game, there is no question who the leader of the Heat must be heading into this series against Boston. Dwayne Wade also has been a huge factor thus far, averaging 23.8 points/game during this years’ playoff run, and will need to be at his best against a Boston Celtics squad that thrives on shutting down perimeter players. With plenty of focus from Doc Rivers’ game plan aimed at stopping these two South Beach superstars, there is no doubt that Miami will need to find success from its other lesser-known contributors, starting with Mario Chalmers. Miami’s key to winning games without a dominant inside player has been a fast-paced, get-out-and-run style of offense. Without James, Wade and Chalmers constantly pushing to make that happen, Boston will have a leg up on this series being able to set up shop on defense and control tempo. However, if Miami can keep the pace hot and the baskets falling quickly, they will be at a huge advantage over a Boston team that doesn’t score a lot of points, and doesn’t have father time on their side.

Though Boston does have a suite of skilled players at their disposal with veteran forward Kevin Garnett, NBA assist leader Rajon Rondo, all-around playmaker Paul Pierce and the long-distance sniper Ray Allen, the longevity of these players, aside from perhaps Rondo, may start to come into question heading into the Eastern Conference Finals. While there is no mistaking that Boston will come mentally prepared to face a Miami team they always play tough throughout the regular season and the playoffs, a prolonged series this year between these two teams will undoubtedly wear on the older Celtics, who may have trouble keeping all their stars healthy. Adding to a list of Celtics concerns as the playoffs move forward, Ray Allen is still bothered by an ankle injury. Avery Bradley is done for the season, meaning less breaks for the perimeter starters. Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass are both going to be working overtime in the paint to establish control, and will see lots of physical, defensive pressure from the Miami rotation of Udonis Haslem, Ronny Turiaf and Joel Anthony. Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo will certainly have their hands full with LeBron James and Dwayne Wade working in transition basketball (note: Dwayne Wade has averaged nearly 32 points in 10 playoff games against Boston). The Celtics simply must find a way to prevent the Heat from getting out and running with the ball from the onset of this series. They have to be stronger than ever on the offensive glass to avoid Miami getting out quickly in transition too often. They must find some way to contain or at least limit the productiveness of LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, who have proven they can double-handedly carry their squad to victory.

Game 1 is a hugely crucial contest for both teams, as history has not been kind to the first team in the Conference Finals to drop the opening showdown. In fact, 80 percent of teams that win Game 1 in the Conference Finals end up going to the NBA Finals. For Miami, they can be confident in an interesting statistic about head coach Erik Spoelstra. During his tenure with the Heat, he is 5-0 in series openers played at the American Airlines Arena. Miami is generating 99.2 points per game at home during this playoff run, while Boston has produced just 85.3 points per game on the road this postseason. While the two teams are near even in rebounding capability, Miami at home is averaging 4 more offensive rebounds per game that Boston is on the road. That may be a key area to watch for, as well as points in the paint. The Heat will have a speed advantage, but Boston knows how to play physical around the basket, led by one of the most physical forwards in the game, Kevin Garnett. Averaging a double-double throughout the playoffs this year, Garnett must be the guiding light of confidence for Boston and continue to perform at his above 100 percent style of play on both sides of the basketball. Boston can keep up with the Heat provided they control the area under the basket, and prevent Miami from easy second chances, and breakaways from the defensive end.

Betting Lines for the Boston Celtics v. Miami Heat at Oddsmaker Sportsbook.

At home tonight, the Miami Heat start the series off as heavy -470 favorites straight up on the money line. The Boston Celtics, despite their increasingly strong play throughout the playoffs, are underdogs at +370 odds.

Against the Spread, Miami will have to cover 8 points at -115 odds, a margin they’ve bested in each of the first two rounds during the 2012 playoffs. Boston pickers will have 8 points to play with at decent -105 odds, with the bookmakers showing that they aren’t expecting this Game 1 to be that close by the end of the 4th quarter buzzer.

For the total points, 179.5 is the mark carved out for the over/under today. While Boston’s smothering defense could be cited as the key factor there, Miami’s new-found game plan of pushing the ball has us seriously considering the over bet, at -110 odds. A fast-paced, hot-shooting night from LeBron James and Dwayne Wade could very easily set the tone for a higher scoring showdown that the betting lines would suggest, though caution is worth taking considering how well Miami can play defense at home against a Boston team that doesn’t score a lot on the road, and how intent Boston will be to stop the Heat from pushing the pace too fast, too early.

In any case, this great match-up for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals will certainly be a worthwhile showdown to get behind at one of the top reviewed sportsbooks found here. Expect a thrilling, deep-running series to begin with a hugely important Game 1 tonight, where the Miami Heat should prevail based on their stronger offensive form and faster-paced style of play.

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